Montana Language Survival School Creates Tools to Ensure Future Success

Nkwusm Language Project MaterialsThe Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute, on the Flathead Reservation in Arlee, MT, provides a complete education for K-8 youth in the Salish language, mathematics, science, and social studies.  Nkwusm is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Salish language and culture. Most of the curriculum is taught in Salish.
From September 2008 through September 2011, Nkwusm implemented a project designed to facilitate a more effective, sequenced and systematic K-8 course of study. The project produced teaching and learning materials, guides and assessment tools. 

The Nkwusm executive director established a curriculum department, comprised of a curriculum director and five curriculum specialists, who worked for three years with three fluent language specialists and three Nkwusm teachers.  The team created nine levels of curriculum (K-8) in four disciplines:  the Salish language, mathematics, science and social studies.

The end product, the 128-page “Changing Seasons Curriculum,” explains in detail Nkwusm principles, values and beliefs.  It describes the Nkwusm language immersion model, and outlines benchmarks for each grade level in each subject. 

According to curriculum specialist Chaney Bell, the new curriculum is already benefiting the school: “The curriculum benchmarks for each subject at each grade level serve as a useful tool, enabling teachers to ensure that kids learn the Salish language and life ways while ensuring that generally accepted academic standards are met.” 

For each curriculum level in each academic discipline, the department produced five lessons with instructional aides. Moreover, with help from six local artists and several community members and story tellers, the team wrote or assembled 25 professionally-published, primary level children's books, all in Salish,   with illustrations and pictures. 

The department also produced dozens of unpublished books using Salish coyote stories, contemporary tales and original stories written by team members. The books are already being used by teachers and youth at each curriculum level.

In partnership with the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nationally-recognized Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, project staff also   devised a Salish fluency level assessment instrument.  This gauges student mastery of oral fluency, grammar, vocabulary and listening comprehension. 

After creating the assessment standards, the team, using CAL’s student oral proficiency assessment instrument as a template, created a set of language usage tasks to assess student knowledge and skill in Salish.  This enables the Nkwusm team to evaluate the extent to which students can use key Salish grammatical structures, speak with fluency and understand vocabulary.

Executive director Tachini Pete reports:   “The new assessment standards have helped us see what is lacking in our current program of instruction, pointing out what we know and what we don't know.  We now know what gaps we have to fill in our teaching and learning, and we can modify what we're doing to more effectively and efficiently encourage language development in our students.”